On being “real men”

10 08 2009


From the blog, Reading Notes, via the Ochlophobist:

Though I am generally impressed with their prose style, I am always struggling to take the litanies of Esolen & Co. complaints seriously. Sometimes I want to sit back and imagine that “Anthony Esolen” and “S.M. Hutchens” are pseudonyms for some outstandingly clever satirist who is trying to show what the world would be like according to the dictates of man-children held captive by an almost perverse fascination with medieval legends as models for living and an adolescent schoolgirl’s approach to morality.

My only comment is that such obsession with “victimization” seems to deflect and cheapen the plight of people who are actually victims. Also, Esolen once again exploits a real problem to spread his crypto-medievalist myopia about the “crisis of civilization”. To speak of a “crisis of boys” in the broader context of today’s humanity seems like a veritable comedy of errors in a world where, let’s face it, women still get the short end of the stick in most places.



12 responses

15 09 2011
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13 08 2009
Leyla Jagiella

I am really not too much of a feminist, I am able to understand conservative sentiments and I have no problem whatsoever with happy people willingly living in some traditional patriarchal arrangement.
In itself, there is nothing wrong about that.
And I certainly am critical of modernity, that is for sure.

But, please, there is really no need that men should these days complain about women taking something away from them.
It may be the case that colleges are now flooded by female students BUT:
due to some miraculous mechanism the majority of all professors, university presidents and holders of other highly qualified academic positions strangely still end up being male.
And it may be that nowadays you will find much more female shop employees then some decades ago but the vast majority of people making big money in economy are also still male.

Besides, all the claimed “areas in which women now dominate men” are very few and selective.
Yes, in fine arts colleges you may find more girls than boys. But go to the natural science faculties, go to the economical scences or go to the medical faculties … you will find a totally different picture revealed to you.
And gues who will make more money later and who will have more influence in our current society …. .

Women took nothing from men.

The game that is being played here is the same played by those who claim that illegal immigrants are taking their job opportunities away.
It is a game working with irrational fears but not based on reality.

The reality is pretty simple:
All human beings, regardless of race or gender, should have the right to take part in the public domain, according to their own capabilities and according to the benefits that they have to offer to general society.
There is nothing to fear about that and if some men feel threatened by this then something was inherently wrong with their selfesteem right from the start and not just after feminism celebrated its first triumphs.

13 08 2009

Not much time to respond, so one point briefly. Ochlophobist wrote:

“An overly self-conscious manhood is not manly …”

That is true. Just as an overly self-conscious tradition is not traditional, a theme often explored by our blog host.

But we are living in unusual times. Tradition, manhood, and womanhood will not return unless there is a consciousness, a *will* to revive them. That means our generation, for the sake of the next, will have to *choose* what earlier generations could take for granted.

13 08 2009


Let me guess, you’re a lawyer? Accountant? If you went to college do you consider your competition with girls there to have been demeaning to you, as a man?

Esolen and Podles are preaching to their niche choir. Their writings will have absolutely no effect on the culture at large. They don’t even offer a serious example of how to live as men in this world, unless you go for that choose-your-own-man-ritual alternative boy scouts gobblyguck Podles espoused in his book (a book hugely dependent on social science, an irony if there ever was one).

An overly self-conscious manhood is not manly, it is effete and adolescent. I learned that from my grandfather who spent his adult life in a steel mill. I was the only of his 9 grandsons who followed him into that sort of work, and I am sure he would have rather I became a lawyer.

I think part of the post-feminist situation we find ourselves in now that I find refreshing is the increasing consensus that many arguments for and against feminism are old tropes and really useless in defining the parameters of the current malaise. Men stopped going to college because boys spend too much time playing video games. Until very recently boys spent much more time playing video games than girls and spent more time watching TV. Most boys who could get into college would get into college if they could because of all of the opportunities it provides for hooking up and partying. My daughters will (God willing) go to school so that they should not ever have to depend upon some man for income if they do not wish to. And, should, God forbid, they end up marrying some jackass who seemed decent but turns out to be addicted to porn or some such, I will be thankful for easy divorce laws and a social order that no longer requires a woman to be stuck with such a loser. It takes the risk out of the equation for me, as then I won’t have to kill the SOB. Life is brutal, let the playing fields be even, in my opinion.

I think there is a hatred of manhood today. Just as there is a hatred of womanhood. I think there is a real looking down upon the old occupations you mention. There is a patronizing disposition, generally speaking, against manual labor and against the working classes. But I do not think the cause is feminism. I think the cause is consumerism and materialism. Esolen addresses this from time to time, between talking about his family’s summer home in Nova Scotia. Podles lives in the mecca of the consumerist universe, Naples, FL.

Feminism is a result of consumerism and technological change. The Republican Party, in the 1890s, began to work on constructing policies which would bring more women into the workplace. In the early part of the 20th century the Republicans, under the influence of their industrialist masters, began to espouse policies which would encourage 2 income households. By the 1950s, there was less need for women to work on household chores all day, as new technologies made them obsolete, and there was an increased felt need to have more household income. The results are rather easy to predict with each passing decade.

I don’t know that there is a particular hatred of men as men here, perhaps more a hatred of the family. But a hatred of the family has always been with us. I had relatives who two generations ago found themselves in single income households where the man worked in a coal mine. This was as anti-family a life as what we see today, for certain. Those folks who worked, man, woman, and child in textile mills in the Carolinas prior to the most recent sexual revolution (the first being in the 1870-80s, the next in the 1920s, and so on) were not living in a pro-family situation. I think that local, subsistence farming, and the communities that those farming families support, can be rather “pro-family” systems when they function well, but those are long gone, and as much as I love Wendell Berry, they are not coming back. And certainly Esolen and Podles do not get that it is not medieval chivalry, or some older intuition of maleness that created those sorts of environments, it was rather a matter of economics, and I do not see them espousing any serious economic reform that would really encourage a return to a family life in which families stay together, work together, and remain coherent micro-institutions.

Of course, on the most particular level, and I can say to hell with the economic orders of the day, and I can say to hell with the sexual free for all of the day. Neither Touchstone types or feminists are going to make that any easier. One can just do the right thing, suffer what comes, and not bitch about it incessantly.

13 08 2009
Steven H


Excellently stated. I have 4 boys, one of which is out of college and the rest poised to enter manhood. The problems you point out are very real. One can only pray that they will be able to navigate the shoals with integrity.

13 08 2009

Perhaps Ochlophobist is putting his finger on something that is unbalanced (I don’t know) in the writing of Esolen and Podles on masculinity. The old manliness did not necessarily mean physical prowess or constantly having one’s back against the wall and itching for a fight. Theology, for example, is a manly discipline, as is engineering and auto mechanics and what have you.

What traditional manliness requires is not so much a fight but a *project* in which men can enjoy the company – and earn the respect – of other men. There are fewer and fewer opportunities for such activities today. Unless the rewards are extremely attractive, men generally flee occupations and pastimes that are dominated by women or otherwise feminized. That’s why men have stopped going to college, plain and simple. I suppose men can be faulted for not fighting the situation, but that would be perceived as fighting or competing against women, which is a lose-lose proposition in the eyes of just about everyone.

Feminism has therefore produced a culture in which the only remaining “manly” activities are intensely physical, highly competitive, or uniquely disposed to violence. The majority of ordinary men today – who in earlier times would have been clerks or barbers or mill workers or shopkeepers – cannot find anything in their work that distinguishes them as men. Increasingly they cannot find any work *at all* that is capable of decently supporting a family.

I gather that Arturo and his friends either do not agree, or if they do, they do not think that it is important.

Some of you would like men to stop whining about it and, presumably, to “do something” about it instead. Esolen and Podles are doing something: they are analyzing and explaining the situation. Before anything else can be done the problem needs to be understood and articulated.

With respect to male violence against women, there is one often overlooked cause to this plague: the domination and humiliation of boys at the hands of women. The boys most susceptible to being dominated and humiliated by women are boys without fathers, and thanks to feminism, this demographic is growing fast. That is precisely how feminism breeds violence.

11 08 2009

But, it seems to me, that there is a rhetorical discontinuity here – Esolen and his pal Leon Podles like to talk about how it is in the nature of men to like to have their backs against a wall – to intuit that life is about a fight and a struggle against sometimes difficult odds. How does one posit this and then complain about how the odds are against men in our society? If it is in the nature of men to want such a fight, why should we be surprised when such a fight presents itself? This leads me to believe that what Esolen and Podles say about the nature of men is really just posturing and posing – like when my I play swords with my nephews – they like to pretend they are Narnia princes, but I only allow the fight to get so rough. As it turns out, they are not princes, and they would probably not fair well in an actual dual with swords. Podles and Esolen seem to me to be saying that men, by nature, need a good sword fight, but then they cry “too rough” “too rough” at the first sign of injury. What is that about?

Anymore, I think it all hogwash. You spend enough time in your life with your back against a real wall, and you realize that it doesn’t particularly leave you more manly than anyone else. I don’t need an English professor or some rich dude who lives in Naples, Florida (Podles – what a manly place) to tell me about manhood. This sunday morning, my brother who lives a couple blocks from me, a Memphis cop, off-duty, was putting his kids in the car to go to church, and a man jumped a neighbor’s fence, trying to escape a drug bust from a house one street over. The neighbor yelled to my brother that this fellow was running from the cops. My brother tackled him in the yard and there was a scuffle. Cops picked up dude; he’ll be out of the pokey in six months. My nieces and nephews and sister-in-law saw all this. It sounds so romantic, but the kids were crying to see their Dad in obvious danger, and his wife is scared as hell now, because she saw it and she knows he has to do this sort of thing on a routine basis. And now there are people in the neighborhood who have an axe to grind against my brother. My brother, on the surface, is the sort of man who Esolen and Podles deify. But he is also the sort of man that would have nothing to do with the likes of them. His view of violence is quite utilitarian, and if we could all afford to get the hell out of dodge to someplace more safe we just might. My brother would love to be a small town cop who writes tickets for 30 years. Ballads about old battles with the Turks are nice and all, but they don’t talk about the 12 pack it takes to put the adrenaline down, or kids with night terrors who have to be assured that their father is not dead when he is off working his night shift, or unions that will stab you in the back as fast as the Police brass will, or the wife who has to now sleep with a .40 next to her while her husband is at work. O, Podles and Esolen can quote some really inspiring Belloc verse, but Belloc, after his wife died, went off a sailing his big yacht because he couldn’t deal with life’s brutalities, leaving his kids in the care of hired help. Chesterton could wax on about his favorite battles, but if there were ever a man who I think we could all agree would have been utterly useless in an actual fight it would be Chesterton – he would have to have his wife tell him when to punch. Men who actually fight battles, whose lives are actually at risk, whose families actually hurt because of the dangers, these men tend to not be so damn romantic about manliness.

11 08 2009
Steven H

While Mr. Esolen’s prose can surely get overheated, he does make some valid points.

One key reality is that women now outnumber men in colleges, as much as 60% to 40% at many liberal arts colleges. Where are these men going? Certainly not to the trades, who are begging for people to become apprentices. I don’t know, but they seem to be fading out of society (and subsequently filling up the jails and abusing the women in their lives).

It’s also been pointed out that the current recession has been particularly hard on men (one researcher coined the dreadful phrase “mancession”). One reason may be that traditional men’s jobs like factory work are less and less viable in the current economy while traditional women’s jobs like education and health care are on the rise. These are long-term trends.

A previous poster commented that “guys can dream of stardom in professional sports or rap, which are also fields that are largely closed to their distaff peers”. These are legitimate dreams for maybe 5% of the male population. What about the other 95%? How many lives of young men, partcularly black men, are squandered chasing ephemeral dreams of sports stardom?

I think modern life does pose particular problems for young men, even though Mr. Esolen’s purple prose may not help make the case.

11 08 2009

I can never figure out why some men complain that the classroom is so hostile to males. The most common argument seems to be that radical feminist teachers are expecting boys to act like girls by sitting quietly at their desks. However, in the “good old days,” schoolroom discipline was much harsher than it is today and the bar for good deportment was also much higher (in many inner cities schools, half of the class time is just spent trying to establish some sort of order). The best example of this is probably that of Eton, where public beatings with a cane or birch rod were administered until 1980. I think that until recently there were many well-paying blue collar occupations that men could go into when they got bored with school that women couldn’t take advantage of because of their lack of a physical strength and outright sexism. Also, guys can dream of stardom in professional sports or rap, which are also fields that are largely closed to their distaff peers.

11 08 2009
Leyla Jagiella

sorry, the above quote is from st.jerome, not st.ambrose.
st. ambrose instead wrote:” she who does not believe is a woman and should be designated by the name of her sex, whereas she who believes progresses to perfect manhood, to the measure of the adulthood of Christ.”
implications for what makes a “real man” are the same, though.

11 08 2009
Leyla Jagiella

well, i have this thing for “gender stuff”, as you know, and during some research i came across a quote from st.ambrose saying that “as long as woman is for birth and children, she is different from man as body is from soul. but when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man.”

while this quote speaks more about women than about men and while it can, unfortunately, also be interpreted in a horribly misogynistic manner, it does point to the fact that some of the late antique and medieval fathers of christian ethics and faith would have interpreted and described any possible “gender crisis” in terms and parameters quite different from the above mentioned “crypto-medievalists”.

and, yes, many many thanks for pointing out the “veritable comedy of errors” here. these guys should pay some attention to the data on women who have to experience domestic abuse every day just simply because they are women.
we still have enough of these cases here and now in the modern western world, not to speak of the rest of the planet. i do not even dare to whine about daily encountered sexism, lower salaries for women etc. etc. etc. when thinking about that stuff.

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